How a Cheap Huckster Tricked Our Corrupt Navy
This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.
The Glenn Defense Marine scandal has exposed “a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy,” concludes a Washington Post investigation.
The ease with which one foreign contractor infiltrated and ripped off the Navy in the Pacific makes one wonder about the integrity and strength of not only the 7th Fleet but the broader institution. It is surprising that Navy officers with so much training and experience fell prey to the simple flattery, bribes and other low-tech tools of a Singapore-based huckster.
For more than a decade, the head of Glenn Defense, Leonard Glenn Francis, cozied up to Navy leaders to win lucrative contracts to refuel and resupply ships. At the same time, he was gathering internal Navy procurement information and other intelligence. To do so, he wined and dined Navy officers, and provided them with gifts, prostitutes and other favors to get them to do his bidding.
If this nobody, who had no military background, could wrap so many Navy leaders around his finger with little more than charisma, there is a huge institutional problem. What about our other military and intelligence services and agencies—are they just as easy for hucksters, let alone expert foreign spy services, to penetrate?
You should read the full Post story. The revelations are disgusting and pathetic. I assume the Navy puts a huge effort into training, protocols, security and technology to ensure that we have the most effective fighting force possible. Yet all of that was so easily undermined in such old-fashioned ways. I don’t get it.
To the Navy’s credit, it was their internal investigation that eventually exposed the corruption. And the Post story indicates that there were some officers who wouldn’t go along with the sleaze.
Francis was captured and pleaded guilty to various crimes. Four Navy officers, an enlisted sailor and a Navy investigator have pleaded guilty to crimes. On May 27, three more officers were charged with corruption-related offenses. Investigations are ongoing and dozens of other Navy officials are under scrutiny.
Here are some of the highlights from the Post story about one of the worst national security breaches in years:
Leonard Glenn Francis was legendary on the high seas for his charm and his appetite for excess. For years, the Singapore-based businessman had showered Navy officers with gifts, epicurean dinners, prostitutes and, if necessary, cash bribes so they would look the other way while he swindled the Navy to refuel and resupply its ships.
Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.
In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.
He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.
Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.
The company forged invoices, falsified quotes and ran kickback schemes. It created ghost subcontractors and fake port authorities to fool the Navy into paying for services it never received.
The investigation has mushroomed partly because Glenn Defense was a pillar of U.S. maritime operations for a quarter-century. The 7th Fleet depended on the firm more than any other to refuel and resupply its vessels.
Over time, Francis became so skilled at cultivating Navy informants that it was a challenge to juggle them all. On a near-daily basis, they pelted him with demands for money, prostitutes, hotel rooms and plane tickets.
“The Soviets couldn’t have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis,” said a retired Navy officer who worked closely with Francis and spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal.
“He’s got people skills that are off the scale. He can hook you so fast that you don’t see it coming. . . . At one time he had infiltrated the entire leadership line. The KGB could not have done what he did.”